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California “Comeback”: Prisons Still Violate Eighth Amendment


Two years after the US Supreme Court ruled that California prison conditions constituted “cruel and unusual punishment,” Governor Jerry Brown says his state has “one of the finest prison systems in the United States.” A district and a federal court disagreed this week, rejecting his requests to regain control of prisons from the federal judiciary and threatening to hold him in contempt of court. The Sacramento Bee reports:

[The three-judge federal court] wrote that they make such a threat reluctantly, “but with determination that defendants will not be allowed to continue to violate the requirements of the Constitution of the United States.”…

In a stinging rebuke of [Governor Brown’s] effort, Sacramento U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton not only denied the state’s motion to terminate his oversight of prison mental health care, he struck down part of the state’s evidence in support of the motion, finding Brown, corrections officials and their lawyers from the attorney general’s office stooped to unethical tactics.

He said prison mental health care is still woefully short of adequate when measured against constitutional requirements.

California has yet to meet the court’s order of a population at or below 137.5 percent of capacity, with about 9,000 inmates over that level. This is a daunting task, but California’s problems go beyond an overcrowded prison system. It’s a sign of institutional, political and societal failure when so many people are sentenced to jail that the state can’t afford to imprison them all and can’t treat inmates with a constitutional standard of humanity.

This is not what a “comeback” looks like.

[California Republic image courtesy of]

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